Auden Called the 1930s - Sample Essay
W. H. Auden Called the 1930s “A Low, Dishonest Decade” and Many Though Not All, of The Poets of the 1930s Shared This Disillusionment. What Have You Found Interesting in the Poetry of the 1930s? Although many poets agreed with Auden’s statement that the 1930s “A Low, Dishonest Decade”, some poets didn’t share in this disillusionment. For example, I think that Louis MacNeice’s “Birmingham” agrees with this statement. On the other hand, I think Dylan Thomas’s “Fern Hill” compliments the 1930s and gives a positive impression of the decade. In terms of the language, “Fern Hill” and “Birmingham” contrast each other perfectly.
Dylan Thomas deliberately wrote “Fern Hill” using simple language and short words, possibly to symbolise the youth and naivety of the situation. Contrasting this, Louis MacNeice uses much longer words and there is a much wider use of vocabulary. MacNeice also uses little punctuation and his words are in an incoherent jumble, which reflects on his image of Birmingham – an unclear, tangled place. However, Dylan Thomas uses synaesthesia, a confusion of feelings, which is not all too different to the technique Louis MacNeice uses when he creates a jumbled feeling in “Birmingham.
” The poets obviously have different feelings towards what they are writing about. It’s apparent that Louis MacNeice dislikes Birmingham – the poem is about how ugly the city and the residents’ lives are, and that it is an urban blight where spiritual deadliness is bred. However a distinct difference between “Birmingham” and “Fern Hill” is that Dylan Thomas gives off a positive image of “Fern Hill” and it’s noticeable that he really likes it. It’s of an idyllic memory: it could perhaps be Dylan Thomas’s childhood, or it could just be a speculation of a perfect childhood.
The general theme of the two poems differ – “Fern Hill” describes a rural area – Thomas writes about nature (“trees”, “leaves”, “grass” and so forth) and a farm area – “famous among the barns, about the happy yard and singing as the farm was home. ” The image Thomas is giving the audience is that “Fern Hill” is a peaceful, tranquil, mute area. However Louis MacNeice is talking about an urban area in “Birmingham” – Birmingham is a big city, and MacNeice mentions the “brakes of cars,” “smoke from the train gulf,” “fidgety machines” etc, which all give the impression that Birmingham is a busy, bustling urban area with a lot of people around.
The reader would be able to see this even before reading the poem, just by looking at the titles – “Fern Hill” sounds like a calm, still area, and “Birmingham” is a big, active city. In “Fern Hill”, Dylan Thomas mentions a lot of music: “about the lilting house”, “the calves Sang to my horn”, “the tunes from the chimneys” etc. The poem also has religion in it, with biblical references including: “the Sabbath rang slowly in the pebbles of the holy streams” and he mentions Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden: “it was Adam and maiden.
” The religious references could imply that God created the beauty of the earth, and the beauty of the place, Fern Hill. In his poem, Thomas also uses colour as descriptions, especially green: “and fire green as grass”, “as I was green and carefree”, “whinnying green stable” etc. The constant use of the word “green” gives a sense of youth, freshness and being alive. He also uses “gold”: “golden in the mercy… “, “golden I was Huntsman and herdsman” etc. The use of the word “gold” implies luxury, affluence. Dylan Thomas also uses the word “white” (“like a wanderer white”), which gives the image of purity and naivety.
“Birmingham” also mentions colour – “diaphanous as green glass” but it isn’t used in the same way as Thomas used it. It gives the impression as lacking substance and an empty feeling. The colour “plum” is also used – “plum after sunset” – which can be perceived as a positive, beautiful image. But in reality the sunset is probably only plum because of the pollution and smoke. Time is a theme in “Fern Hill” – it’s described as infinite and it gives the impression that it will go on forever. Thomas was very fond of using the phrase “time let me”, especially in the first and second stanzas: “time let me hail and climb”, “time let me play and be”.
In the fifth stanza he writes “I ran in my heedless ways”, which gives the image that there are no worries in the world, that childhood has no cares and worrying is just simply not an issue. However, just two lines later, he writes “that time allows”, which projects a sense of prohibition, which is an oxymoron it itself as the “heedless ways” contradicts this. “Fern Hill” is a poem which emphasises beauty; however “Birmingham” is not a poem that would strike you as being beautiful. Despite the negativity in the first three stanzas of “Birmingham”, there is a change of direction.
The poet suddenly describes the beauty of Birmingham at the end of the working day. He describes that the commuters commute from the “living death” of the city – “on shining lines the trams like vast sarcophagi move. ” So although at a first glance the poem may seem negative and pessimistic, when the reader looks closer, the poem actually has a positive turn at the end. This is not the only poem that does this – in W. H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939”, in which he calls the 1930s a “low, dishonest decade”, he uses a similar technique. The poem is cynical about the 1930s and mentions evil, suffering and lies.
However in the last stanza, there is that one little word that changes the whole direction of the poem: “yet. ” This word is not only a turning point but represents hope. This technique is also used in Stephen Spender’s “An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum”, where the poem discusses the lack of prospects, malnutrition and lead. However the word “unless” is used, which gives hope to the students, and instructs the teachers to open their windows and break open their lives. MacNeice uses the technique of sibilance – “sullen sentry will all night wait”, “sleep-stupid faces”.
He also uses similes: “the slumward vista thins like a diagram”, “diaphanous as green glass, empty as old almanacs”, “the trams like vast sarcophagi move”, etc. In “Birmingham”, MacNeice uses the technique of enjambment: “… half-timbered houses with lips pressed So tightly… ” “… like vast sarcophagi move Into the sky… ” “… the brakes of cars Pipe as the policeman pivoting round… ” This technique accentuates what MacNeice is trying to get across, and it makes the message stand out. Enjambment is running over lines, and this could imply the running of lines in life in Birmingham, perhaps that life cannot be seen clearly in the city.
There is also juxtaposition in the second stanza (“And endeavour to find God and score one over the neighbour”) – you ought to love your neighbour to please God! In “Birmingham” there is a regular rhyming pattern, with the words at the end of every two lines rhyming – for example “cars, bars”, “neighbour, labour”, “shops, mops”, “forms, norms”, to name a few. This pattern is repeated throughout the poem, with the exception of the last stanza. In the last stanza there are half-rhymes, for example “move, mauve. ” There are also examples of Para rhymes, such as “go on, zone”, “blood, bud” etc.
The rhythm of the poem is fairly repetitive. Dylan Thomas uses the technique of alliteration. Such examples include: “grass was green”, “simple stars”, “wanderer white”, “spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm”, “farm forever” etc. This stresses what the poet is trying to say. Thomas also uses enjambment, similar to MacNeice: “the calves Sang to my horn”, the Sabbath rang slowly In the pebbles of the holy streams”, “the night-jars Flying with the ricks” etc. Enjambment emphasises the words the poet is using. There isn’t such a clear rhyming pattern at all in “Fern Hill”, though.
A few lines half rhyme, for example “maiden, again”, “ways, hay”, but there is no clear pattern like there is in “Birmingham. ” I think that although both poems are similar to each other in some aspects, such as both including certain literary techniques, the poems differ from many more aspects, including the theme, the language used, the settings, whether it is positive or negative etc. And on top of this, “Birmingham” seems to agree with the statement that describes the 1930s as a “low, dishonest decade”, where as “Fern Hill” contradicts this statement and immensely compliments the decade for its naivety, youth and innocence.